“I am a part of all that I have met…” Tennyson
I read something recently that really resonated with me, that the source of frustration can usually be traced back to unmet expectations. I wish I could tell you where I read it but I do not remember. It was somewhere on the Web, the vastness of which continues to boggle my mind whenever I try to contemplate it. What’s that condition some people get when overwhelmed by great beauty? Stendhal Syndrome? There has got to be something like that for what happens to my brain when I try to comprehend the World Wide Web…but I have veered completely off topic here as usual…
Back to my original thought which was that, yes, I realized how true it is that expectation can lead to frustration (wait, that rhymes!). I thought of every time I feel frustrated as a teacher and every time my students feel frustrated in the classroom and I can always bring it back to this essential element, unmet expectations.
Ok, I promise I am getting to reflecting on my Action Plan. I just like to wander thoughtfully and work it all out as I write. But here is how I think it all connects. By making learning authentic for my students I think I can stop worrying about “meeting expectations” and focus on this: expect that my students will learn when provided with the opportunity and the safe space in which to do it because the human brain loves to learn; nurture this; believe that they will become the best versions of themselves and show them that I believe this; help them; relinquish my expectations and see where the kids take it. I know it will be somewhere I didn’t expect. Yes, this is me being all shiny and idealistic. This is me imagining myself with a bunch of kids, running wild in the forest and mucking about in the mud, exploring the city, building things, solving problems, learning about life and everything in it all while rarely darkening the door of the classroom. I imagine this would have to take place in a sort of utopia for education (such as Finland).
Back to the real world now, the one I regularly inhabit and in which I am trying to create this sense of agency and authenticity in classroom learning. The difficulties of getting out in the world to make connections between what happens in the classroom and my students’ lives sometimes seem daunting.
My Action Plan was to try to harness the students’ curiosity and natural desire to learn to help them feel good about coming to school each day. I started by focusing on one science unit and for the most part it worked really well. So well, in fact, that I feel a sense of urgency in trying to make all of school like this for my students even when we have to learn difficult things like fractions and paragraph structure. I wonder what would happen if I could have a school without walls as @lmcbeth talks about in her inspiring blog post.
In the meantime, while I am mostly stuck within these 4 walls, I have tried a few things out. Generating authentic writing by getting the kids to notice the world around them and what it sparks in them. We practised doing this by going different places and writing down what we noticed (we went to the furnace room, thanks @ckirsh for suggesting way back at the beginning of this journey that I ban myself from the classroom for a week, not quite there yet but I’m working on it!)
We ended up with kids writing about basketball players, climate change, Donald Trump, and the importance of education. They cannot wait for writing time and I am amazed at how their paragraph writing skills have developed.
Lots and lots of open-ended, collaborative problem solving, a process that I actually started working on last year. I’m trying to move away from asking a question with an expected answer. Rather, I provide some information and see what the kids do with it. It really requires me to sit on my hands and bite my tongue while the kids go to it. I have to be patient and not intervene because I think they are missing the point. They bring their own kid logic and experience to whatever they do!
But helping them understand fractions has been tricky and I am still trying to work it out. I’m finding it difficult to find authentic ways to solidify this concept for them. I am still learning about this process and I find myself pushing them too far before they are ready. @rutheichholtz inspired me to step back and let the students lead the way. What I am still trying to work out is where my role as teacher comes in. When and how do I get the students to the next level of understanding? When do I push and when do I step back? One thing I have learned so far is that I need to be ok with a question mark.
I am grateful for this opportunity to learn from my colleagues and to connect with so many passionate and dedicated educators. I have learned so much and grown so much, both in my teaching practice and in who I am as a person. My Action Plan continues, in fact I think it will always continue as long as I am a teacher. That is one of many things that I have taken from this Cohort 21 experience; that an Action Plan can go on and on and on! It’s a work in progress as are we all.
Should you feel so inclined, have a look at my Final Reflection